Tag Archive | Fast Food Nation

six calories of separation

I am related to Fay Wray. Yes, the actress well-known for her theatrical screams, who portrayed Ann Darrow in the original King Kong film. More dramatically, though inadvertently, she was “the beauty who killed the beast”. I guess lots of ordinary people have some connection to famous ones–but mine is pretty crazy, right? When Fay Wray died in 2004 at the age of 96, the lights of the Empire State Building were extinguished for fifteen minutes in her honor.download

The story is even a little more interesting. Cousin Fay was born in Canada to a Mormon family who eventually moved to Hollywood. She attended high school there and entered the film industry at a young age. Though most famous for her role in King Kong, she had many film and TV roles in her long career. It was in Hollywood that she met and married my grandfather’s cousin, Robert Riskin. Well, I know you are probably wondering if my connection by marriage counts–but Robert Riskin has a celebrated history as well. He was a prolific playwright and screenwriter–an Academy Award winner best known for his work with the director Frank Capra on films such as It Happened One Night, You Can’t Take it With You and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.

So, while they led very glamorous Hollywood lives, the bulk of my relatives lingered in New York. Though many of them possessed various artistic talents, my celebrity relations remained thus limited. Nonetheless, though I live in a tiny circumscribed world, I am tickled by the notion of brushes with fame. My shortlist includes that of being picked up while hitchhiking in Big Sur by Carl Reiner and his wife Estelle, and of providing nutritional services to Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Brokaw, Peter Martins, and Bill Bradley during my various stints as a waitress. I actually had a little tiff with Mr. Bradley about a diet soda–he shouldn’t have been drinking the stuff anyway.

And, then there are my amazing nutrition connections. I have mentioned before in various posts that not only do I know Mark Hyman–I lived with him during college; I had breakfast with Marc David; I am pretty positive that I grew up in the same town as Michael Pollan–so that is association by geography; and I did clearly imagine seeing Mark Bittman in Brooklyn one day.

So, already sitting on a pretty full nest of impressive–though perhaps exaggerated–VIPs for a small village girl, imagine my surprise when this happened. A few weeks back, my inbox began to flood with feed from my professional and personal networks about a new book called Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. Everywhere I turned, I was seeing or hearing about this new exposé of the food industry. My first reaction was to file this for later. But, then something caught my eye– in the tiny print of the text that appeared on my screen. The author was Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Michael Moss. It took one quick message to my college and journalist friend Ellen to confirm my suspicion. This was not just any old Mike, Mark or Tom–but another very real connection.

Ellen dated Michael many years ago and I knew him through her. Back then, Michael was assigned to cover the New York State Legislature in Albany where he knew no one–except me, Pete–and baby Morgan. So Michael hung out–and ate–with us. At that time he was finishing his first book, Palace Coup: The Inside Story of Harry and Leona Helmsley of which I have an autographed copy–made out to the three of us.

Though we have been long out of touch, I was aware that he was a well-regarded journalist. He had won the Pulitzer in 2009 for his investigation of an E-coli outbreak. So, I was not at all shocked to see that he had written another book. Instead, I found it remarkable that someone I knew was bringing big attention to a matter so near and dear to my own work. The news about the book now seemed more close than far. Eager to get my hands on an excerpt the day it ran in the New York Times, I grabbed the magazine section from my brother-in-law before he even finished his beloved puzzle page.

In the weeks that have ensued since the book was published, Michael Moss has been very busy on the circuit with very public appearances including the Daily Show. Its been nice to see him again. His book unveils how many processed food items are insidiously designed to ensnare its consumers. It adds to the stomach-turning information revealed by the likes of Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation, David Kessler in The End of Overeating, and Greg Critser in Fat Land and discussed by people like–me.

However, what Michael has achieved is to put faces and names to the industry. He got inside and he obtained admissions from those who were controlling the direction and deception of the products–that what they were doing was bad. The depth of the collusion is always chilling to encounter, no matter how many times one learns of it–and for many, this will be new. He writes, “It’s telling that many of the wealthy food executives I spoke to about their products wouldn’t dream of eating the stuff themselves.” How he managed to obtain hidden documents and how deeply he infiltrated, speaks to his highly tuned investigative acumen.

So, here I am again, giddy that I actually know someone else who is poised to affect the societal metabolism. I am not sure how heavy his final indictment was–but he has certainly added to the conversation. Stuff like this makes me want to scream one really huge Fay Wray scream. Believe me–I have it in me–even if it is just by marriage.

Please continue to join me in the collective noise-making about food justice and reclaiming a path toward real food and societal health. Take a peek at the Turn the Tide Foundation. Watch the film, Hungry for Change. Drop me a line, say hi, and share your thoughts. When you are famous I will be so glad to say I know you too–though I am thrilled to know you anyway, right now.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn

Related Posts: Reporting from the Rim of the Sinkhole; The Dance of Diabetes; Have It Your Way at Red Chinese Sorghum Mutton Noodle; Three Good Mark(s)

(Update 2020: Did you know that General Mill’s and Hershey are sleeping together and begat Jolly Rancher Cereal which hit the shelves just in late December 2019? AAAAAAGH!)

(Update 2021: New book releases: Fast Carbs, Slow Carbs: The Simple Truth About Food, Weight and Disease by Dr. David Kessler; Hooked: Free Will and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions by Michael Moss; and, Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food from Sustainable to Suicidal by Mark Bittman.)

My Plate Haiku

Smooth peanut butter

Spread on a peeled banana

Snack time perfection.

by Gretchen

have it your way at Red Chinese Sorghum Mutton Noodle

Happy Chinese New Year. It is the Year of the Rabbit, but things may not be so cute in bunny land no matter what astrological system you ascribe to. Last month there were reports of a shift in the astrological alignments apparently due to an Earth wobble or precession. This wobble or twist of the Earth’s axis is caused by the gravitational attraction of the moon on Earth’s equatorial bulge. I may not know a lot about astrology, but I do know about anatomy, and with the sudden burgeoning of obesity amongst 325 million people in China, I suspect that equatorial bulges may, in fact, explain the wobble.

About twelve years ago I caught a segment on television, perhaps on 60 MinutesLay’s Potato Chips were being imported to China for the first time and a massive marketing campaign was underway to introduce these thinly sliced, deep-fried and salted tubers served in a colorful and crinkly bag. One early morning as millions of people in some enormous city were bustling to work on foot and bike, a very large display of cardboard boxes was stacked at the entrance of a market.  The boxes were marked with lots of Chinese letters–and Lay’s. People were being stopped in their busy tracks and asked to sample this wonderful new product. Many of them were holding small paper bags of peanuts–their centuries-old “on the go” breakfast. The chips got a mixed review.

This segment was followed by a piece on the rapid increase in childhood obesity in China. Apparently, within ten years of the introduction of American fast food into China, ten percent of urban youth were overweight. Featured was a military boot camp-like program where about one hundred rank and file uniformed kids were being led sternly through a highly supervised exercise program.  This did not look particularly fun, but to the Chinese government, this was no laughing matter.

Five years ago, I attended a conference sponsored by the American Heart Association on obesity. A Chinese physician who now practices in the US was one of the speakers. He said, that twenty years prior–about 1985–when he attended medical school in China, it was extremely rare to encounter diabetes. For his training, he had to travel to a far off province to find a study case. He explained that now, diabetes is so rampant in China, that it is a significant drain on the Chinese health care system, and subsequently on its total economy.

As I sat to write this, my original thesis was that the US had purposefully set out to fatten up, sicken and slow down the industrious Chinese with fast food as an economic dominance tactic– but my research now makes me wonder if it was payback for what the Chinese had done to us–in retaliation for what we had done to them. Chinese cooks and restauranteurs had long ago figured out how to alter their cuisine to meet and oversatiate the American palate– happily to their own economic advantage. Consider that the first privately owned restaurant only opened in Beijing in 1980; while the first Chinese restaurant opened in this country in San Francisco in 1849. According to http://factsanddetails.com/china, there are more Chinese restaurants in the US than the top three large fast-food chains combined. Can that be?

I am often apt to echo Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation rant against food additives and flavorings and how their application to our food supply has fostered an epidemic of food addiction that afflicts even very young children. But, was not the MSG that peppered our Chinese take-out and addled our brains perhaps the grandfather of all such flavor enhancers? Had the Chinese immigrants who were so mistreated here, literally found a way to have us eating out of their hands? Nowadays, Thanksgiving is the only day of the year that Chinese restaurants here are not busy–apparently, it’s a big day for Chinese weddings.

One of the more difficult parts of my work is weaning folk off of General Tso’s Chicken, Beef and Broccoli, and pork fried rice. Big grown men look at me with sad puppy dog eyes and whimper like puppies too. They whine, well how come Chinese people aren’t fat–(or didn’t use to be)? I respond harshly, make them do a hundred jumping jacks and tell them to walk home.

The second that China loosened its restrictions on the West, American fast food conglomerates were ready to flood its shores with a deluge of the additive-enhanced foods we specialized in–and the modern, more prosperous populace was ready and eager to be seduced. The first American fast-food chain to set up shop was Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1987. Apparently, what has been attractive to the Chinese diner is the cleanliness, efficiency, and courtesy of the western establishments where customers get escorted to their tables. This gesture (perhaps along with the under 5-yuan menu) has put western establishments way above their Chinese competitors who actually serve food more accommodating to the Asian palate. However, once exposed to our mischievously enhanced food products, there is no looking back. Even the big Chinese national chain, Red Chinese Sorghum Mutton Noodle could not withstand the heat. Perhaps Confucius say: Kill enemy softly.

Though I know this is not breaking news, it is still hard for many people to fully comprehend the effects of these “manipulated” foods on our bodies. They have contributed to the alteration of the global waistline and median blood sugar level. It is really difficult for me to explain this to the many kind and gentle adults and children who sit before me as clients. How could we imagine that we are sold food that fosters a profoundly unnatural, addictive relationship? But, we are.

Well, I have a few more people in this country to tend to and then I may have to head over to China. Until I arrive, they may need to use some of those ghastly Chinese manufactured plastic food models that they ship here to teach us about food and proper portion sizes. Once there, I’ll have to convince them to reclaim their own cultural snack food of peanuts–or hua sheng. I am told that they do still magically appear if you say pi-jin–the word for beer. One thing I won’t have to contend with there is fortune cookies-the alluring end to an Americanized Chinese meal. Apparently, they originated in Japan and are not at all part of China’s culinary traditions. Still, I must remember, the stakes are high. The wobble may just make this the Year of the Hippopotamus if they do not act quickly.

I leave you with an old Chinese proverb: Wherever smiles happen and happiness is celebrated you’ll find Lay’s Potato Chips. So tell me, how are you going to celebrate?

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn